Taghkanic Baskets - They're Not Indian!
Some of the most beautiful and finely crafted splint baskets ever made are the Taghkanic baskets. Many people assume that they were made but the Taghkanic Indian Nation, but they weren't - and that Indian Nation doesn't even exist.
Taghkanic, often spelled Taconic, like the Parkway in upstate New York, is an area of Columbia County in New York State. It is an Indian name meaning "water enough".
A small group of hermit-like families lived in the hills around that area, married and intermarried, and produced baskets for generations. Most of their names were either Hotaling or Proper. Their baskets were some of the finest ever made. They are often mistaken for Shaker because of the precision and craftmanship in their making. But they are not Shaker-like at all. They have very distinctive features.
I always look at the rims first. They are like no other - they extend out from the edge of the basket and are flattened, wider than they are tall, unlike most basket rims. Taghkanics are
always double-lashed and the turndowns are short.
The other very distinctive feature of Taghkanic baskets is their handles. Swing handles are bentwood, and have a hole drilled at both ends to accept the "ear" which straddles both sides of the rim. The ears on Taghkanic baskets are always perpendicular to the rim, unlike most swing handle baskets which have their ears parallel to the rim.
Fixed handles are always double notched both above and below the rim, making them tight and sturdy.
Typically, Taghkanic baskets have round bottoms, raised in the center, but not always. Some round or oval baskets have rectangular bottoms, which are flat. They made several types of baskets: round bottom with a round top, square bottom with a round top, and rectangular bottom with a round top. Round was most common. They often did double bottoms for strength.
Unlike many basket makers of the time, the makers didn't travel to find the materials they liked to use in their baskets. They were hermits. They didn't go anywhere. So they used the materials available to them in the area - ash and oak, and sometimes hickory and maple. The mix of materials gave them a superior basket. The Shakers would never have done that.
Some of the Taghkanic basketmakers made miniature baskets and nests of baskets of varying sizes. Liz Proper, the last surviving Taghkanic basket maker, was famous for them, and continued to make them into the 1980s. Genuine Taghkanic baskets are no longer made.
It is still possible to find fine Taghkanic baskets at shows and flea markets. They are usually very sturdy and often without much damage due to their fine craftsmanship. If you're lucky, you can sometimes find them for under $100 - usually because the seller doesn't realize that they are Taghkanic. I absolutely love them! Here are a few mew pictures of them:
The best reference book on Taghkanic baskets that I've found is "The Legend of the Bushwhacker Basket" by Martha Wetherbee and Nathan Taylor, published in 1986. You can still find it, used, on Amazon.